For the first time in many rounds, there was no change in the leadership of the 2016 Candidates tournament. The results of Round 13, the penultimate round of the competition, left Sergey Karjakin of Russia and Fabiano Caruana of the United States as the co-leaders, and as the only ones who can win the tournament and become the challenger for the World Championship. The scenarios of how either player can win are explained in another article on this site.
Nakamura v Topalov
With the end of the tournament approaching, and the stakes rising for some players, there was no shortage of drama in Round 13, even though there was only one decisive result. Somewhat ironically, it was in the one game that could have no bearing on who will be the winner of the tournament — America’s Hikaru Nakamura won with surprising ease against an out-of-sorts Veselin Topalov of Bulgaria. In his game with Nakamura, Topalov, who had White, made a strange choice in a well-known opening that quickly led him into a worse endgame. Winning the endgame was never going to be easy.
Aronian v Karjakin
Karjakin obtained a typical Reversed Sicilian position against Aronian’s English Opening. But Aronian outplayed him in the middlegame maneuvering, culminating with a wonderful tactical idea. The crucial situation was at Move 30, when Aronian could have got an even better position if he had calculated the lines a little more precisely. Aronian won a piece, but couldn’t get rid of Black’s passed a-pawn, which gave Karjakin just about enough compensation to hold the game.
Svidler v Caruana
Amazingly, the Aronian-Karjakin game was not the longest one of the round — that distinction went to Caruana and Svidler, who traded many errors. Svidler’s favorite Spanish setup was once again under some pressure, and playing Nb8 in the next position looked particularly unappealing. But Caruana didn’t play decisively enough, and let Svidler regroup perfectly. Black’s position was much nicer after the regrouping, and Caruana’s attempts to create a mess by the h4-h5 pawn sacrifice did not seem to have teeth. Until Svidler blundered with. Luckily for Svidler, he noticed just in time that Rxe4 would lose material. But Black has clear weaknesses in the endgame, and Caruana found a great sequence of moves to target the Black queenside. Svidler held on somehow, and there was never an obvious win for White. Perhaps Caruana missed something, but as Svidler said afterward, “But once again, we should not dig too deep into this endgame, because everybody is a bit tired.” Nevertheless, in the post-game conference, the players analyzed an amusing endgame sequence if Svidler had played a different 63rd move. Admittedly a beautiful line, but the computer points out that 66…Bb4! forces a drawn king and pawn endgame. In the end, the players got the classic rook plus bishop vs rook endgame. This is a well known theoretical draw, but it still needs a fair bit of accuracy to defend when the king is pushed to the corner. Even though all four rows of squares at the edge of the board are symmetrical, Svidler said that it was particularly hard - from a psychological point of view - to defend on the a-file as it is somewhat unnatural to move the rook and king around there (as opposed to the eighth rank)! To add to the drama, after holding on for a long time, Svidler, went wrong just before the 50th move to let Caruana get the famous Philidor winning position. Caruana said that he had seen the winning idea many times, but the question was, could he win before reaching the 50th move? So Caruana could have forced Black to give his rook two moves before the 50th move, after which he would have won the game. Oh so close.
Anand v Giri
The other game was between Anand and Giri. Anand had been doing very well on the White side of various 1.e4 e5 openings, but in Round 13, he lost his concentration in the opening. In his words, “by move 14 I was trying to equalize.” Soon after, instead of keeping hanging on to his comfortable position, Giri initiated completely crazy complications with an interesting piece sacrifice. Both players thought that Black had enough compensation, but they missed a few defensive ideas in mutual time trouble. Giri seemed to have better chances in the rook and pawns vs. two-piece position, but White was probably holding on. The game took a dramatic twist when Giri played the really passive 45…Rf8, missing an incredible mating net. There was an intense discussion afterward to see if White could still win at the very end in the bizarre, study-like position. The players couldn’t believe that it could be winning, but they struggled to find a defensive solution until the very end. If White had continued, it would have seriously scared Giri.
So, now it is down to Karjakin and Caruana. Round 14 should be very exciting.
Read more about the games on worldchess.com.